Along with Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, the USA No1 shaped the perception of American goalkeeping into something positive
Not many US soccer players receive a phone call from the president, but Tim Howards performance in the USA against Belgium in the second round of the World Cup two years ago earned him and Clint Dempsey an audience with Obama.
Howards enthusiasm on the call is clear, and charming. Hello Mr President, he giggles in amusingly un-chill fashion as the president offers his congratulations. Dempsey is more composed, but the pairs quiet pride is unmistakable.
For several days that July, Howards 15 saves in the game originally tallied at 16 but later rounded down by Fifa made him an American hero. USA lost 2-1, and Howards task was made easier by some remarkably careless Belgian finishing, but for a short time Howard became a major talking point, the object of the internets cheesiest memes. US soccer fans fell in love with him: they petitioned Reagan Airport in Washington to be renamed in his honor, and wanted those great gloved hands to defend the entire country. Even Chuck Hagel, the real secretary of defense, played along.
That steamy afternoon in Salvador arguably represented the high point in a successful professional career that took in Europe, a career worth reflecting on now that Howard, 37, is back where he started with MLS all those years ago. Howard will join the Colorado Rapids this summer on a three-and-a-half year deal that will pay him almost $3m annually. Talk had surfaced in January that Colorado were interested; Sundays announcement merely confirmed one of soccers worst-kept secrets.
Looking back, that World Cup would have been the perfect time for Howard to leave Everton and return to MLS, which last knew him as a promising youngster with a goofy smile and a shock of hair. But he chose to continue in the Premier League, and his form dipped. In hindsight, he probably stayed too long.
Howards Everton performances declined markedly after 2014, and the goodwill that came his way beforehand has been largely absent since then, as evidenced by a growing conflict between the player and a section of the Goodison support. He was below par in 2014-15, and after a number of errors this campaign a flap at Arsenal here, a penalty or two conceded there Roberto Martnez finally installed the Spaniard Joel Robles as Everton No1. Howard hasnt played since Januarys 2-1 home defeat by Swansea in which he conceded a sloppy penalty. He knew his time in the Premier League was up.
Howard will leave Everton with the support a number of former colleagues. Tim Cahill described the American as a great keeper and Phil Neville thought him one of the best in the business. David Moyes, a manager known for his loyalty to established players, made him his No1 for almost seven seasons, and was keen to praise Howards influence off the field as much for his deeds on it. He is very conscientious about his work and how he goes about it, Moyes said in 2012. He has helped us in so many games, and hes a big part of what we do. Hes a big voice in the dressing room as well.
His statistics are not to be sniffed at, either. He made more than 400 appearances for Everton; among goalkeepers, only Ted Sagar, Gordon West and Neville Southall, championship winners all of them, have more. His best years came in a stodgy but solid Moyes team that hovered around the sixth-place mark, and he rebuilt his career at Goodison in commendable fashion after a rocky spell at Manchester United that reached a low point in 2004 with the Porto debacle in the Champions League.
With a minute remaining and United set to sneak through to the quarter-finals on away goals, Howard fumbled Benni McCarthys routine free kick, Costinha stabbed home the rebound, and Porto went on to lift the trophy. Remember Portos suave young coach sprinting along the Old Trafford touchline in manic fashion as his team scored their equalizer? Howards unwitting role in Jos Mourinhos rise should not be understated
The missing elements for Howard are the trophies. His resum is pretty good, and includes numerous individual awards in Concacaf and MLS, but in 10 seasons with Everton, he managed just one final appearances and no silverware. He did lift the FA Cup and the League Cup with United, but the suspicion remains that he should have won more. Howard maybe epitomised Everton under Moyes and now Martnez: admirable, competent and generally well-liked, but just short of the quality required to be considered truly elite. On the rare occasions that Everton have sniffed a trophy in recent years, theyve seldom performed. Take the 2009 FA Cup final: Howard allowed a Frank Lampard wobbler from 25 yards to get away from him, and Chelsea collected the glory.
And perhaps goalkeeping has changed from when Howard first started. Howard, at 6ft 3in and more than 200lbs, has impressive biceps and pectorals, and has been known to feature in countless mens fitness magazines, but he looks out of place among the slim, lithe keepers of today. Compare the American with De Gea, Lloris, and Courtois, arguably the Premier Leagues premier goalkeeping trio. Each have spring and elasticity; Howard, as age has caught up with him, lost his some time ago. Hes essentially an old-fashioned keeper: comfortable inside his six-yard box, content for his team to defend deep, happiest when tall centre-backs are there to head the ball away. The modern sweeper-keeper, best exemplified by Manuel Neuer, has to play with his feet, and Howard was never ultra capable with them, hence the frequent supporters grumbles as another clearance was clonked into row Z.
But we should give him his due. Along with Brad Friedel and Kasey Keller, Howard shaped the perception of US goalkeeping into something positive. USA might be deficient in other areas, but their keeping is solid, and Howard has much to do with that. Ten years in the upper reaches of the Premier League, including a spell of 210 consecutive appearances for his club; 106 caps and counting for the US national team plus one famous wind-assisted goal against Bolton: thats not half bad. Howard can be more than satisfied with his lot, and if he finds Colorado to his liking, he could yet be going to his fourth World Cup in Russia. You never know: another call from Obama might be on its way.
Read more here: http://www.theguardian.com/us